Dylan hartley England

England hooker Dylan Hartley

Martin Johnson said Warren Gatland’s comments about Dylan Hartley were “unsubtle, not exactly unexpected, and a bit premature” as he launched England’s Six Nations campaign today in London, writes Bea Asprey. Warren Gatland said earlier this week that England hooker Hartley “went to pieces” when Northampton took on Leicester earlier this month, and says he believes Hartley will not be up to the challenge of facing Wales on Friday week. But Johnson has hit back at his opposite number, saying: “Pressure effects people in different ways. This is the opening game of the Six Nations and they’ll be desperate to win. Warren’s done this sort of thing before so it wasn’t unexpected.”

Johnson’s faith in Hartley stands firm despite the criticism from across the Severn, and he says the hooker has grown up a long way thanks to his role of captain at Northampton.

“Dylan’s been playing well and has done his talking on the field,” said Johnson. “We want players to be aggressive, and that’s why he’s in the team. Dylan has matured a heck of a lot and this is just another thing in his career which he’ll have to deal with. He’s captained a team which has been unbeaten in their European pool, and although he was a little surprised by Warren’s comments, he’s been training as normal and just wants to play as well as he can.”

Gatland was quick to quell any claims that he was feeling undue pressure, saying: “We’re always under pressure in this game. At least my chief executive hasn’t said we need to come first or second!”

(See John Steele’s expectations for England’s tournament).

Wales hooker and captain Matthew Rees refused to say whether he thought Hartley would be up to the challenge posed by Wales, saying: “We’ll have to wait til next Friday night to see about that.”

Of the injuries to Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, Rees continued: “Adam is a big loss to us, but Paul James is a great scrummager, and it’s a great opportunity for the likes of John Yapp to make a big statement. There’s still plenty of confidence within the squad.”